Bumble Bee Added to the Endangered Species List

It’s not just honeybees that are feeling the pain of recent declines. For the first time ever, a bumble bee species has been added to the U.S. Endangered Species List. (Photo: Dan Mullen via Flickr)

The rusty patched bumble bee used to be found all over the Midwest and Eastern U.S. Now, it’s only found in small populations in Ontario and just over a dozen states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“The species was quite a common species up until the late 1990s,” says Georgia Parham of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest regional office. “But we did a status review and found that its abundance had dropped by like 87 percent, which is a huge drop in a short period of time.”

LISTEN: Bumble Bee Added to the Endangered Species List

The agency was petitioned to list the bee, which Parham says is an extremely good pollinator. It pollinates wildflowers and crops such as tomatoes and cranberries. She says a number of things appear to be driving the bee’s decline—including the loss of prairie habitat, pesticide use and other factors.

“There’s a thought that possibly pathogens or disease from other bee colonies might be affecting it. And also concerns about climate change, because climate change can intensify weather events that can affect this bee population.”

She says the agency is working to keep the bee from going extinct. And she says everyone can help.

“One thing about this particular bee is the places where it’s still found, some of these places are in urban areas. And people can help by planting bee-friendly native plants in their backyard.”

She says the bumble bee is one of the first bees to come out in the spring and the last to go in in the fall, so they need flowers all spring, summer and fall.

Parham says another way to help the bees is to leave some debris in your garden over the winter. That gives them some habitat for hibernation.

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Want to learn more about the rusty patched bumble bee and how you can help? Check out this website. This story comes from our partners at Michigan Radio's Environment Report, a program exploring the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan.